Gentrification in Pilsen

By Belen Dominguez

For the past 17 years Frank Gallegos 53, has worked with the youth at Harrison Park Community Center. Knowing what it’s like to come from an low income family Gallegos is able to relate to the Latino youth in the facility. He has lived through all the hardships and changes in Pisen and believes if he can help at least one kid stay off the streets he will change the lives of a whole generation.

Gallegos reflects on his childhood, remembering that he did not have the programs they now have for the community.

“ I remember  having to run home after school… hiding under cars because there was shootings. There were boundaries, if you didn’t know that area you couldn’t go in that area. I was never in a gang,” but because of the gangs in the area “I could never come here,” referring to Harrison park.  

Gallegos believe that these new programs have helped keep the kids off the streets. “ I have more freedom to walk anywhere… I’m more safe”.

In the late 19th Century, Pilsen was first home to a community of Czech immigrants, but in the late 1960s, an increase of hispanic presence on the community began to flourish. As the Czech began to move out more Mexican immigrant families began to move in.

To this day, Pilsen is prominently Mexican family oriented community. Bordered by 16th Street to the north, Halsted Street on the east, Western Avenue on the west, and Cermak road on the south, Pilsen is home to 36,000 people, of whom 80 percent are Mexican.

Pilsen is surrounded by the Mexican culture. From the family owned restaurants, shops and building apartments. Its rich culture is exposed to the world in its many murals all over Pilsen. The music playing in restaurants are a reminder of home, but so is its low income families. Pilsen is home to many Mexican families the majority first  and second generation who find themselves working hard in a new country for a better life not only for themselves but for their family, especially the children.

Gilberto Sandoval 22, is a general museum educator at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen who has lived here all his life  and explains how rent has raised drastically in the community.

“ I remember when I was 12, we paid $450 and now I pay $750 for a two bedroom apartments,” he said.   

Sandoval  explains that most of the new shops in the community “are owned by people who live outside of the community”. These new franchises in the community  “benefit the young Mexican people but it also sucks because that new bar or shop use to be a grocery store or a mom & pop restaurant and now it’s like a trendy upskill bar,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval explained  how the new Giordano’s restaurant  on 18th Street use to be an educational building for the community which gave kids free art classes.

“But at one point the museum could no longer maintain the property taxes on the building…so they had to sell the building,” he said.

Sandoval said  his family is an example of how Mexican people are affected by these changes.

“My parents lived here because they couldn’t buy property because it was cheaper to rent than to own property,” he said.  

“I myself am moving out of the community after living here for 22 years… because it’s cheaper for my mom to pay the mortgage then pay the rent,” Sandoval said.